Child beading (aishontoyie saen) is a major cultural practice found in the Samburu community. Samburu morans, young worriers aged 15-35 years, are not allowed to marry.  Hence girls as young as 9 years old are assigned to male relatives by use of red traditional beads. The young girl is adorned with beads, signifying ‘engagement’ for sexual purposes only.  The mother of the beaded girl builds a hut outside their manyattas where the male relative visits the beaded girl to engage in sexual activity at any given moment he wishes. The ‘couple’ is allowed to have sexual intercourse but pregnancy and the use of contraceptives are forbidden. In case pregnancy occurs, it has to be terminated by use of herbs or by crude abortion.  If the baby is born, it is given huge amounts of tobacco and abandoned in the forest as it is an outcast.

This traditional practice of beading has the potential of spreading HIV in the community.  Girls who are initiated into sexual intercourse at a tender age have immature genital organs which are normally inflicted with cuts and ruptures in the process of intercourse with older men who are experienced and who may have sexual relations with other partners thereby creating pathways for HIV transmission and increasing their vulnerability. Although no studies or surveys have been done, the practice has it is estimated that 3 in 4 girls in the 8-12 age group are beaded.

Angelina* (Beading Story)

This is Angelina* and she is three years old. Her mom was beaded when she was 10 years old. The moran that beaded her got her pregnant and of course disappeared. As you may know, according to the customs, if a beaded girl in Samburu gets pregnant, she has to undergo abortion, and if it fails and the baby is born, is supposed to be thrown in the forest to be eaten by wild animals as the baby is an outcast. Otherwise, the baby is killed by being given high concentration of tobacco. Luckily, Samburu Girls Foundation heard about her mom’s fate before she underwent abortion. We went to her rescue and ensured that she was safe. She gave birth to the beautiful baby Angelina who is now 3 years old. Her mum is continuing with her primary school education in standard 6, always being in the top of her class.  Angelina on the other hand will be starting school next year and she has been fostered by a loving family in Nairobi.

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*name changed to protect the innocent